Linux Mint and Ubuntu are both known as two of the most newbie-friendly distros around. Ubuntu is the most popular — so much so that Linux Mint is based on it. But there are real differences between the two. Which one is right for you?
Ubuntu began in 2004 when millionaire Mark Shuttleworth founded Canonical. The first release was version 4.10, referring to October 2004. A new one becomes available for download every six months. Each fourth version serves as an LTS (long-term support) release; Ubuntu 16.04 LTS launched in April 2016.
For the first six years of the project, Ubuntu’s tagline was “Linux for Human Beings.” While Canonical has changed the branding, Ubuntu remains a distribution aimed at new users.
Linux Mint first hit the scene in 2006. The distro is built on top of Ubuntu but takes extra steps to remove obstacles for newcomers. One key distinction from most other distros is the inclusion of Flash and proprietary codecs out of the box. This will change with the upcoming release, version 18. Then users will have to download codecs during or after installation.
While the numbers are different, Linux Mint releases typically come a few months after each Ubuntu version. Starting with 17, every LTS marks a new version number, with the three subsequent releases being x.1, x.2, and x.3.
512MB RAM (2GB recommended)
5GB of disk space (25GB recommended)
1024 x 768 screen resolution
512MB Ram (1GB recommended)
9GB of disk space (20GB recommended)
800 x 600 screen resolution (1024 x 768 recommended)
Both need a DVD drive or USB port for installation.
Ubuntu and Linux Mint have similar system requirements. The biggest impact on resources comes from which desktop environment you choose and the software you install.
Ubuntu and Linux Mint both use the Ubiquity installer. This means if you can figure out how to install one, you know how to install the other. The experience isn’t identical, but it’s close.
That’s not to say that Ubuntu and Linux Mint support identical hardware. That can change depending on which version of the Linux kernel each comes with. Other software decisions can affect what runs where. Ubuntu has more resources and users to point out problems, so you might find better support there. Your mileage may vary.
Linux Mint and Ubuntu both support UEFI. Linux Mint is not certified by Microsoft, so disable Secure Boot before attempting installation. With Ubuntu, you can leave Secure Boot enabled.
Most distros default to one of the standard Linux desktop environments. Both Ubuntu and Linux Mint develop their own.
Ubuntu uses the Unity interface. This is a GNOME-based desktop environment common only to Ubuntu. A global menu and notification area occupy a panel across the top, and applications live in a dock along the side. You launch software from the Dash, the dashboard that appears when you click the Ubuntu icon.
Linux Mint’s Cinnamon desktop is an alternative to GNOME 3, born before the latter won over the hearts of many long-time Linux users. Cinnamon provides a familiar feel for people moving over from Windows or a Chromebook. Applications appear in the panel along the bottom, with a launcher menu in the bottom left and system icons on the right.
Linux Mint 18 marks the debut of Cinnamon 3.0. You can get an overview of new features in the video below.
Unity may feel more familiar to Mac OS X users, while Linux Mint makes for an easy transition for Windows users.
Ubuntu has its own interface, a new package format, an upcoming display server, and other infrastructure. But it doesn’t come with many exclusive apps. One holdout, the Ubuntu Software Center, went away in the latest release. Now Ubuntu uses GNOME Software alongside many other GNOME apps. When software doesn’t fit in with the Unity interface, Canonical makes patches to ease the situation.
In response to the same issue, Linux Mint is introducing X-Apps. These are generic applications aimed at traditional GTK desktop environments. They continue to use titlebars and menubars, elements the GNOME desktop has phased out for GNOME 3.x. The screenshot below shows Xviewer, an alternative image viewer to Eye of GNOME.
The team develops many apps specifically for Linux Mint. The distro has its own package manager, backup tool, upload manager, and others.
In either case, you will be able to continue using the vast majority of the open source software you know and love.
There are ten versions of Ubuntu listed on the distro’s website. Besides the Unity desktop, you have alternative “flavors” that default to GNOME, KDE, LXDE, XFCE, MATE, and MythTV. There are also specialized distributions, such as Edubuntu for education, Ubuntu Studio for multimedia producers, and Ubuntu Kylin for Chinese users.
Linux Mint has four main options. There’s Cinnamon, MATE, KDE, and XFCE. 17.3 has two versions, one with and without codecs, but this will change with version 18. There are also OEM images that manufacturers can use to pre-instal Mint.
Both distros let you set up your own desktop environments, but if you want to experiment with a bunch without configuring things yourself, Ubuntu is the way to go.
Ubuntu vs. Linux Mint: Which Will You Choose?
Ubuntu is the more well-known of the two distros, but Linux Mint is also one of the most popular out there. Both provide users with a great introduction to Linux. More Ubuntu-related web content exists due to the size of its community, which is a big help when you’re starting off. But much of what applies to Ubuntu also applies to Mint.
So, the choice is yours. Which distro do you prefer? If you have experience with either one, you’re welcome to tell your story in the comments.